REVIEWS: 2002 Jaguar X-Type Four Seasons Test

August 1, 2003
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It's probably fair to say that the Jaguar X-type has not lived up to expectations, neither for its manufacturer nor for those of us here who have been living with it for the past year. Jaguar intended for its smallest and cheapest car to blow the brand open worldwide and to establish Jag as a true full-line automaker. Its low base price, standard four-wheel-drive system, and dank, tweedy charm would, it was hoped, double the brand's overall volume to 180,000 units. As of the 2002 sales report, Jaguar's volume is well off that mark. In fact, the shortfall is something like 50,000 cars, or more than Jag's North American sales total for 2001.
So what happened? Our experience with the X-type might provide some clues, even if it won't tell the whole story: There were simply some aspects of the car's marketplace performance beyond Jaguar's control. The economic environment in which the car was launched continues to be tough for all carmakers, but especially so for Jaguar, which delivered its most self-conscious and new-moniest car just as the Western world's all-night coke binge was grinding to a halt.
Still, a certain amount of blame for the car's problems rests with Jaguar. Although its sales actually have held up best in America, where luxury has become necessity, in other crucial markets such as mainland Europe, the X-type hasn't really caught on. This is primarily because Jag doesn't offer a diesel engine, and also because Europeans, who have Chunnel access to the real England, are less convinced by the forced Britiosity of the car. Even some of our American drivers felt that the X-type's Ford Mondeo roots were too visible inside. Furthermore, the car's quality, though up 14 percent in J.D. Power's IQS rating this year, was in our experience absolutely faithful to the brand's storied heritage.
This is not to suggest that there isn't a great driving experience to be found at the X-type's wheel. When we first got into this hotly anticipated baby Jag back in June 2001, executive editor Mark Gillies lauded the car for its "supple ride, supreme bump absorption, low road noise, and really chuckable chassis... Over an unfamiliar road, in the rain, or piling on the miles down a freeway, the X-type is mighty fine... The biggest revelation is the car's steering." Its combination of polished ride, interior clubbiness, and British B-road agility brought some welcome, if a bit overwrought and obvious, Ye Olde Englishness to a segment rife with cold German perfection.
Throughout our test, more praise was heaped on the car for the well-mannered way it went about its business. Contributor Ronald Ahrens said, "The ride and handling are exemplary. On the secondary roads I like to drive, it's possible to feel the grit of the pavement. The X-type stays composed, and in the passenger compartment everything stays serene." Senior editor Joe Lorio said of the car's 2.5-liter V-6: "The powertrain is adequate to the car-not a nagging reminder that you didn't spend more."
Most of us agreed with Lorio and were surprised that the Duratec engine this car uses could be so transformed. Both the 2.5- and the 3.0-liter V-6s pull strongly and make a great growling induction noise. And when it came to discussions of the car's four-wheel-drive system-a planetary center-differential arrangement with a 40/60 front/rear default split-drivers were unanimous. While all agreed that a power-oversteering, rear-wheel-drive car would be more fun at the track, the all-weather upshot of the car's four driven wheels more than made up for its in extremis limitations. Cheryl Sherman, wife of technical editor Don Sherman and in the buyer profile for this car, said, "During the first snowfall of the season, this Taurus wannabe held its own on the highway against the bulky SUVs that were trying to pass me. But where are the bun warmers?"
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The truth is, Mrs. Sherman, we couldn't afford them. The X-type originally took a full-size luxury car's approach to options pricing. There was the $1200 Weather package, the $2000 Sport package, and the $2500 Premium package-all of which subsequently have been made less expensive. But we wanted to avoid this stuff altogether, in order to take Jaguar up on its promise of a $30,000 competitor to more expensive BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. We wanted a base 2.5-liter V-6 car with a manual transmission, no CD player, no navigation system-a stripper. However, owing to the fact that the cars available at launch were highly spec'ed out, we took a 2.5-liter car with only a few options-nav system, Premium package, and metallic paint ($550)-rather than wait months for an unadorned one. These additions pushed the price up to $35,845, and still the car lapsed in a few crucial luxury zones.
Drivers commented on the X-type's unacceptably high level of cabin noise: "A Hyundai Elantra puts the X-type to shame in this area. We had to totally crank the stereo to hear it, and even then the sound quality wasn't that good." A minor skirmish between past and present online editors erupted in our logbook's pages on the subject of interior finishes. Said current Web guru Matt Phenix, "I emphatically disagree with Greg Anderson's generous assessment of the quality of the X-type's plastics. Lay your hands on that rickety armrest, Mr. Anderson, or open and close that astonishingly flimsy glovebox door, and I suspect you'll reconsider. All the chrome-dipped typography and flashy plasti-wood in the world can't conceal the truth: The X-type is a mass-market Ford."
Phenix's comments may sound strident, but he was not alone in his thinking. Most of us felt that there was something artificial about this Jaguar, something a bit contrived. Maybe Jag reached down-market too fast, or maybe it didn't spend enough time honing the car's interior. Or maybe some brands don't have the elasticity to stretch so far down-market in the first place. Think about it: How convincing would a $40,000 Bentley be? Or a cut-price Vacheron Constantin? On the strength of their badges, such items might sell well at first (as the X-type has here), but ultimately they would unravel the brand's mystique. Like the luxury merchants above, Jaguar has worked for years to protect its noble aura and has been careful not to mix with the common folk: Jaguar's most mainstream car prior to the X-type was the Mark II, and that car's market position roughly corresponds to today's S-type. Indeed, since the 1970s, Jaguars have been expensive propositions over here, yet they have always represented good value. They were like affordable Rolls-Royces. Our X-type came across as just the opposite.
For almost $36,000, we expected more, including a high level of reliability. Our X-type suffered some major setbacks, but, to be fair, not all of them were the car's fault. We were rear-ended late in the test, which put the X-type out of commission for ten days and sucked $2161 out of our coffers. And because we decided that we could not possibly live for another instant without a CD player, we had a CD changer installed at our local stereo hut/adult bookstore/meth lab. As you might imagine, the installation wasn't exactly done to QS9002 standards. Somehow, while affixing the CD changer to the back of the rear seat, the installer knocked our navigation system's antenna out of whack. As a result, the navigation screen would place the car in all sorts of unlikely scenarios, such as driving across Lake Michigan. In an earlier Four Seasons Logbook report, we erroneously implied that this was somehow the fault of the nav system, which it most definitely was not. It was the consequence of a larger epidemic: inbreeding.
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Problems not inflicted by us were more numerous. There was a stress crack in the windshield (back-ordered for six weeks), a nonfunctioning rear-seat release latch, a nonopening fuel-filler door, a dislodged thermostat hose (which caused the car to overheat, stranding us), and a grinding third gear. When a Jaguar technician heard our transmission whine, he checked the gearbox and found a worn third-gear synchro. To remedy it, he prescribed a new transmission, installed at 28,515 miles. A mere 174 miles later, this new transmission stopped working altogether. Since this event happened so close to the end of our test, the car was never fixed, and at 28,689 miles, Jaguar took the car away from us forever.
And so the tale of our X-type ends in disgrace, thus obscuring the space and pace. It was hauled off in chains, perp-walking out of the office where it had spent just a year. We'll miss it for its charisma and drive, but in the end, it was just another high-style executive with a great rsum and questionable integrity.

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